Cassis: Russian spying has ‘calmed down’
Russian spying activities has ‘calmed down’, says Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis
“Pragmatic” talks, including a visit to Moscow by the head of the Swiss secret service, have helped iron out some of the problems stemming from the alleged Russian spying in Switzerland, according to both countries’ foreign ministers.
Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, were all smiles for the press after a working lunch in Geneva on Wednesday on the margins of the Afghanistan Ministerial Conference at the United Nations.
Alleged Russian spying in Switzerland was one of the main items on their menu, alongside the political situations in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria. Relations have been strained between the two countries after a series of revelations of alleged spying by Russians in Switzerland, which Moscow continues to deny.
Swiss authorities believe that two Russian spies targeted a Swiss chemical weapons testing facility outside the capital, Bern, while prosecutors are also investigating a cyberattack against the offices of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Lausanne.
In September, a confidential intelligence report compiled for the Swiss government suggested that one in four Russian diplomats based in Switzerland was a spy. Russia roundly dismissed the claims.
In Geneva, the Swiss minister said the spying problems had been partly resolved. “Sensitive, difficult questions like espionage can be discussed between friends,” Cassis told reporters.
“We were happy to observe that after our meeting in New York, the situation became calmer and improved, ending delays in the attribution of visas for Russian and Swiss diplomats.”
The two ministers previously held talks about the spying allegations at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25. Cassis and Lavrov agreed that a visit to Moscow at the beginning of November by Jean-Philippe Gaudin, the director of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service, had helped defuse tensions.
“It allowed him to establish contacts with intelligence officials and should allow us to talk directly to them when there are elements that we don’t appreciate in the future,” said Cassis.
Nonetheless, the Swiss minister maintained a firm line in front of the cameras, insisting that there is a clear difference between illegal spying and legal intelligence gathering. “Switzerland doesn’t tolerate illegal spying activities,” he declared.
“Spying activities by diplomats is not allowed, whether it’s Russia or it’s other countries, and we need a correct relationship in this regard”.
Russia maintains its innocence. Last week, its ambassador to Switzerland, Sergei Garmonin, again denounced Swiss accusations of espionage, and said that due to lack of evidence, and to preserve relations between the two countries, the charges should be dropped.
On Wednesday, Lavrov said professional and pragmatic talks were the only way to resolve problems. But he insisted that “lots of countries accuse Russia of all kinds of wrongs but with no facts, always with the same ‘highly likely’ approach of Theresa May [comments made after the Skripal poisoning]”.
“We learnt from mass media that Switzerland had concerns about Russian activities,” said Lavrov. “We were very surprised as there is a tradition of friendly talks… but the Swiss government didn’t ask for any explanations from the Russian government [about the spying]. Someone from the Swiss government perhaps simply shared this information with the press. They were not looking for any kind of clarification but just wanted to spread a scandal in the press.”